Today's 2020 Investec Derby will be a strange event, devoid of spectators, on-course bookmakers, and the man who could become the most successful trainer in the race’s iconic 240-year history.
Quarantine restrictions mean Aidan O’Brien won’t be at Epsom but a field of 16 for the famous Classic includes six Ballydoyle representatives as the master trainer goes in search of a record eighth Derby success.
O’Brien seems unsure who his primary contender is but when it emerged Thursday that Ryan Moore would partner Mogul it was inevitable his price would contract. Whether he deserves to be so short in the betting is open to debate given he could only finish a laboured fourth in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in his Derby prep run.
He has reportedly thrived since but the Ascot race was only 18 days ago and there has to be a doubt about whether that’s sufficient time to find the necessary improvement.
Stablemate Vatican City was a massive eye-catcher when second to Siskin in the Irish 2000 Guineas but, while he may well stay a mile and quarter, his pedigree strongly suggests a mile and a half will prove beyond him.
Russian Emperor is the most credible Ballydoyle contender. Admittedly, the Galileo colt fluffed his lines when beaten by stablemate Cormorant in the Derrinstown Stud Trial Stakes at Leopardstown on his seasonal reappearance but he made amends when powering home late on to win the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The evidence of both strongly suggests he’ll relish going an extra two furlongs and it’s hard to see a horse in the line-up being stronger at the finish.
Seamie Heffernan’s willingness to sacrifice two weeks of domestic action to make the journey to Epsom to ride him is a further positive and, at odds of around 13-2, Russian Emperor makes considerable each-way appeal to give his jockey a second successive Epsom Derby win.
That being said, there’s little doubt that Kameko is the classiest horse in the race. A Group 1 winner at two, the Andrew Balding-trained son of Kitten’s Joy was mightily impressive when winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last month. If he stays the trip, he’ll give Oisín Murphy a first Derby success but, while a mile and a quarter should be within his compass, the suspicion is he won’t quite get home over 12 furlongs.
And what of the favourite? English King was impressive when winning the Lingfield Derby Trial but whether Ed Walker’s charge deserves to be quite so short is questionable and being drawn in stall one complicates matters for Frankie Dettori.
It promises to be a fascinating contest but, with the top three in the market all opposable, Russian Emperor is fancied to power home late to land the spoils.
O’Brien can also provide the answer in the Investec Oaks when 1000 Guineas heroine Love should take the world of beating. She couldn’t have been any more impressive at Newmarket and her pedigree suggests she’ll be at least as good and possibly even better over a mile and a half.
The talented Frankly Darling rates as an obvious danger but she didn’t look entirely straightforward when winning the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot and may find Love too tough a nut to crack.
Tomorrow’s headline act is the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown where Enable takes her first steps on a journey her connections hope will culminate in the wonder mare winning an historic third Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on the first Sunday in October.
Enable won this race first time out last season, and if John Gosden’s charge is at her imperious best, she’ll repeat the feat. But, over a trip short of her optimum, she’ll need to be close to 100%, as the front-running Ghaiyyath has race fitness on his side having followed up a Meydan victory in February with an impressive Group 1 success in the Coronation Cup Stakes at Newmarket last month.
If Charlie Appleby’s charge is ever going to beat Enable, it’ll surely be tomorrow.
Ballydoyle run Japan, who flopped when 6-4 favourite for Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot last time out. He’ll undoubtedly strip fitter at Sandown, but he’ll have to find chunks of improvement from that effort to land a telling blow in this company.
But if O’Brien makes Derby history and lands an eighth Oaks from the comfort of his own couch, he won’t have too much cause for complaint from a weekend to savour.
Epsom 3.40: Love.
Epsom 4.55: Russian Emperor.
Sandown (tomorrow) 3.35: Ghaiyyath.